Coming into the 2014 season, few people gave the Milwaukee Brewers a chance to contend in the loaded NL Central after a poor 2013 season. If you asked me, I surely would not have said the Brewers are a playoff team. However, at the midway point of the MLB season, the Brewers sit in first place with the second best record in the NL thanks to a powerful offense and steady pitching staff. As a result, Milwaukee has been the biggest surprise so far this season in baseball.
The Brewers have always been known as a solid offensive ball club, and Milwaukee has continued that trend this season. Milwaukee ranks second in the NL in runs scored (423), third in batting average (.257) and second in slugging percentage (.412). What makes Milwaukee’s offense even more impressive is that the production is widespread across the lineup. All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy‘s batting average, hits and on-base percentage rank fifth, seventh and eighth, respectively, in the NL. Left fielder Khris Davis leads the team in home runs with 15, and former MVP right fielder Ryan Braun has returned from his 65-game suspension last season to lead the Brewers in RBIs with 52. Even All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez has had a resurgent season with a .288 batting average, 11 home runs and 43 runs batted in.
Possibly the most valuable and definitely most entertaining player on this Brewers’ roster is center fielder Carlos Gomez. The energy that Gomez brings every day to the ballpark is the perfect spark plug for the Brewers, especially since it drives many of Milwaukee’s opponents crazy. Gomez, the third Brewer chosen to start for the NL at this season’s All-Star Game, is hitting a phenomenal .304 with 14 home runs and 48 runs batted in for Milwaukee. If Gomez continues to produce at the same level for the remainder of the season, he is on pace to set career-highs in hits, home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Now Milwaukee does not have the most dominant pitching staff, but the Brewers’ rotation does have veterans who know how to win and compete at a high level. The Brewers’ pitching staff ranks first in the NL in innings pitched (876), fourth in the NL in quality starts (60) and seventh in the NL in WHIP (1.24). Veteran Kyle Lohse, who is 9-4 this season, leads the team in ERA (3.26), strikeouts (95), innings pitched (127) and WHIP (1.09). Lohse’s innings pitched and WHIP numbers rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the NL. Wily Peralta has been a pleasant surprise for the Brewers, as he leads Milwaukee in wins (10) which ranks fifth in the NL this season.
However, the most valuable arm for Milwaukee this season has no doubt been All Star closer Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod’s 27 saves rank third in the NL, as the one-time dominant closer has had a career resurgence this season. K-Rod’s return to excellence has helped serve as the foundation to Milwaukee’s solid bullpen. Having a great arm like K-Rod’s at the back of the pen makes life much easier for the Brewers, especially as the race towards the postseason will begin to heat up shortly.
Also, one cannot forget about the job Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has done this season, as he stands a very good chance at winning NL Manager of the Year.
Going down the stretch this season, the Brewers will need to bulk up the pitching staff and possibly add another bat to the lineup at the trade deadline if they want to win the NL Central. Needless to say, it will not be easy. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, that all went to the postseason last year, all sit within three games of the Brewers in the division at the All-Star break. The Brewers have been a fantastic surprise so far this season, but we will learn more about this team and whether Milwaukee can be a playoff team during the second half of the season.